04/15/18 — Appreciating those willing to go in first

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Appreciating those willing to go in first

By Joey Pitchford
Published in News on April 15, 2018 3:05 AM

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Wyatt Pennington, 1, tries to crawl away as Kaitlyn Stafford holds his father Alan's helmet above his head while their group quickly gets a picture Saturday. Alan was with a group of firefighters from Nahunta Volunteer Fire Department participating in the annual Wayne County Firefighters Association firefighters competition.

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Amy Whitley, Maurice Baker and Adam Newcomb compete in the annual firefighter competition organized by the Wayne County Firefighters Association Saturday at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

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K9 Nox rests at the feet of handler Steven Ash Saturday after the Wayne County Sheriff Office's demonstration at the annual First Responder Day at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

First responders are often called upon to handle the most dangerous, high stakes situations imaginable -- so it stands to reason they might appreciate a day of fun every now and then.

Saturday was that kind of day, as first responders from across Wayne County gathered at the Wayne County Fairgrounds for the annual first responder day event, which included another tradition -- the annual firefighter competition.

The event began near 10 a.m. with a prayer, after which firefighters from several stations began preparing for the first event, the barrel roll. In teams of three, firefighters stood at one end of a lane marked by orange cones, then tried to roll a metal barrel down that lane using a fire hose -- often to surprising success.

Different groups of firefighters tried different strategies. Some tried going easy on the barrel, using relatively low water pressure to ease it down the lane. Others opted for a more aggressive approach, going full bore and blasting the unsuspecting metal container across the ground -- and occasionally out of bounds, though nobody ever seemed to be in any danger.

Sheriff Larry Pierce said that the event was primarily organized by community members.

"We do this each year in the spring, it's a collaboration between the Bridge Church, the Word of Truth Church, Bethel Church, there's a number of churches that participate in this," he said. "All the first responders bring their equipment out there, they're invited to, whether it be EMS, fire, law enforcement, fire, forestry service, Red Cross."

The firefighter competition used to be a separate event, Pierce said, but decreasing attendance made combining the two a good idea. This year's event was the third, but it was the first time the firefighter competition has been brought on board.

The event featured booths from several public safety organizations throughout the county, as well as live K-9 demonstrations from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base military working dogs.

Watching the demonstrations were Norwayne Middle School classmates Madison Cotton and Marco Bucknam. Both members of the Bridge church, they were enjoying watching the various goings-on of the event.

Madison said she had an appreciation for first responders, given her own penchant for helping people.

"I've been serving for a long time, soon I'm going to be volunteering at a veterinary clinic, because I want to be a vet," she said. "I'm having a lot of fun out here."